I have been doing a lot of locum work recently, and the first morning at a new practice can be a little stressful because I always have one burning question that needs to be answered the second I cross the threshold.

Coffee: Nick Marsh’s “one island of stability in an otherwise unpredictable day”.

It isn’t “Where are the consulting rooms?” (this will become clear soon enough), nor is it “What vaccination policy do you have?” (I have often been emailed this well before I start).

No, the question that needs answering before I can even think about the day’s work ahead is: “Where, for the love of God, is the kettle?”

The caffeination conundrum

I wasn’t always such a caffeine addict. As a student in practice I would watch the vets desperately rush to the tea room first thing in the morning while I sipped on water, bemused. What was it about the murky, brown, bitter-tasting drink that was more important than anything else? Didn’t the vets have other things to worry about?

Once I had qualified, and found myself dropped in at the deep end, at the front line of veterinary medicine, I realised that having other things to worry about was precisely the point of a hot beverage in the morning.

When I’m working, that coffee is my rock – my one island of stability in an otherwise unpredictable day. There are going to be many unexpected and probably unpleasant surprises waiting to pounce on me during my morning. The coffee is not going to be one of them.

Positives and negatives

It makes me wince to write this, but it’s as true as anything else I have written in my blogs: my coffee is my little friend in my consulting room. It never lets me down and it isn’t going to:

  • coffeejump the queue in desperate need of emergency treatment
  • ring me and tell me the anal prolapse I replaced last night has fallen out this morning
  • tell me it needs its anal glands squeezing right at the end of an appointment I thought I’d already finished (though, I suppose, if I’m a very bad shot it might just have anal glands in it, but I’m on good enough terms with my coffee to forgive it)

What my coffee will be is there. It will be there for me to turn to after I have euthanised one of my favourite patients. It will be sitting ready to give me a little warm hug after I have been informed that one of my colleagues is off sick so “you’ll have to do their appointments too, sorry”. My coffee isn’t going to betray me with the news that there’s a bulldog coming in whelping and the client hasn’t got any money until the following Tuesday…

The worst my coffee is going to do is get cold because I don’t get a chance to drink it – and that isn’t my coffee’s fault; it was there, waiting patiently and uncomplainingly for me to consume it.

Pillars of sanity

I know it doesn’t sound much, but these little pillars of stability and sanity are important in a job like ours. Mine is my friendly cup of coffee. Yours may be tea, orange juice, a book, the weight of your stethoscope hanging around your neck, or your air-conditioning unit – it doesn’t matter. What matters is that these things are there for us, unchanging and predictable.

We need them, and when they are denied to us we go a little crazy – which may explain my distressed and disbelieving reaction during the dark days of the “no drinks in your consulting room” edict of 2014 in my old practice.

tea-stain-freeimagesIt may be unseemly to see a grown man cry (let alone drop to the floor and beat his fists on the ground screaming “WHYYYYY?”), but is that any more unseemly than expecting a poor veterinary surgeon to face the rigours of the day without his trusty hot beverage at his side?

If you’re reading this while preparing for the onslaught of morning surgery, then I sincerely hope you’re doing it with your personal pillar of sanity by your side.

And if you’re considering engaging my services as a locum, then among such trivialities as the code for the dangerous drugs cupboard, please make sure that you tell me in advance where your kettle is located.

And please, for the sake of everything, make sure you’ve got some milk in.

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